Travel gets tougher after terror threat

By Maria Slade

Air New Zealand looks set to capitalise on fear of flying through the United States with its new service to London via Hong Kong.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive George Hickton says the deadly terror plot foiled by British authorities on Thursday, and the subsequent draconian security measures, will encourage people travelling to and from New Zealand to do so via Asia.

The national carrier last month announced a second daily service to London via Hong Kong.

"That timing is fortunate because New Zealanders will say I have a choice of Hong Kong or LA, and Hong Kong looks a lot easier," Hickton said yesterday.

Air New Zealand declined to comment on Friday.

As passengers worldwide endure delays and beefed up security following Thursday's events, travel industry pundits say any negative impact on passenger numbers will be short-lived.

Aviation analyst Tom Ballantyne says after events such as the Bali bombings and SARS, airline traffic has always bounced back, and international air travel continues to grow annually. He says in the first half of 2006 it grew five per cent globally, and 5.6 per cent in this region. "There are more people flying today than ever."

Ballantyne says travellers are resilient in the face of onerous security checks and the ever-present threat of terrorist attacks. "Since 9/11 there's no doubt people are becoming inured to all this sort of stuff."

George Hickton says most people planning to arrive in New Zealand in the next month or so will have already booked their flights. "Our experience is they generally continue with their holiday plans."

He says tourism to New Zealand recovers well after the likes of a terror event as we are not seen as being on the terrorists' radar. "The issue is getting here, not being here."

Commentators say Australian and New Zealand passengers are particularly resilient and will get on with life. In the year after the Boxing Day tsunami there was an eight per cent drop off in tourism to Thailand, according to Flight Centre spokesman John McGuinness, but New Zealanders travelling there rose 10 per cent.

He says the one exception is Bali - after the second bombing there has been a marked drop off in New Zealanders going there. "It just hit a bit close to home, that it happened again and it was targeted at Australians and New Zealanders."

Geoff Thomas, senior editor of Air Transport World magazine, says last week's grand scale terror plot will have a greater impact in the United States.

"After September 11 there was an incredible knee-jerk reaction in the US that went on for years, which basically sent three airlines into bankruptcy."

Certainly airlines already suffering from high fuel prices will face additional pressure on margins from tighter security measures. With the ban on liquids on board, carriers will need to stock more drinks for passengers and the restrictions on cabin baggage will require additional resources to handle extra hold luggage.

The share prices of several major US airlines continued to slide on Friday, although brokers said it may have more to do with higher oil prices than with the terror threat itself. Continental Airlines fell 7.1 per cent, United was down 5.1 per cent, and American 7.2 per cent.

In the United Kingdom British Airways shares fell 19.75 pence following the announcement of the foiled terror plot, to close on Friday at £3.70.

Geoff Thomas says in terms of the additional security measures, the way we travel may have been changed forever. "We may see the day when security and fuel levies and taxes will be worth more than the airfare is."

The ban on liquids on board planes to and from the UK and the US will affect duty free retailers. Perfumes, cosmetics, wines and spirits make up 45 per cent of sales and the industry is already looking at ways around the restrictions.

Meanwhile one industry that may gain an unexpected windfall from the chaos are charter companies. JetNetwork, a private jet charter firm based in Florida, says it has seen a 60 per cent increase in requests for charters of both domestic and international flights in the past two days.

- Additional reporting by agencies

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